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Q&A: Jailed Al Jazeera cameraman Mohamed Badr

Mohamed Badr, who was freed in February, discusses his seven-month detention in several Egyptian prisons.

Last updated: 20 Mar 2014 12:04
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Mohamed Badr was released in February, but four Al Jazeera journalists remain behind bars [Al Jazeera]

In February, Al Jazeera Mubashir-Egypt cameraman Mohamed Badr was released from prison in Egypt after having been held for seven months. In an interview with Al Jazeera's Mohamed Ghulam, Badr said he was exposed to continuous torture, both physically and mentally.

Al Jazeera: What were the circumstances of your seven-month detention?

Mohamed Badr: The circumstances under detention were extremely harsh, in line with the country's prevailing political situation. Moreover, the interior ministry had a hostile attitude and handled the detainees inhumanely. I experienced more than 200 days of torture and humiliation. 

AJ: Can you describe the kind of harsh treatment you were exposed to?

MB: I was beaten and physically and mentally tortured. Sometimes they kept on beating me for one and a half or two hours. The last time I was beaten came after the ruling of my acquittal, during interrogation at the state security office. An officer ordered his security men: "Take him to the combustion room" in Azbakiya centre, "because he is a traitor".

AJ: What is the 'combustion room'? 

MB: I did not realise what "combustion room" meant, but I saw it with my own eyes when, after two hours, I was taken to Azbakiya, where I saw that room. Two security officers and two informants entered the cell and kept beating me for more than two hours. All that occurred after the ruling authorised my acquittal.

AJ: Why was that? 

MB: No reasons were given since torture is a routine practice in Egyptian prisons. Were there any logical justifications for my arrest in the first place?

AJ: Have you seen other detainees who were beaten?

MB: Many of them. I saw detainees who were tortured, beaten and hanged on the doors with their hands and feet in shackles. We were exposed to both physical and mental torture. We were scared and unable to sleep.

AJ: What were the charges filed against you? 

MB: The major charge was possession of a camera and broadcasting equipment, as confirmed by the investigation report. This was the charge that distinguished me from my other colleagues in the same case.

AJ: Given that you are a journalist, didn't they allow you to carry a camera? 

MB: It was permitted, and the channel had the necessary papers and permits. This was why they were only able to file charges pertaining to broadcasting issues, or for airing pictures - besides other charges of killing and attempting to kill citizens, attacking police officers, burning Azbakiya police station and the Ramsis metro station, torching Masr train station - along with a list of more than 20 charges.

AJ: Have you been involved in those charges? Did you witness them?

MB: I was a witness to the fact that the charges never materialised. It all began when I was ordered by the channel to photograph the Ishaa and Taraweeh evening prayers during Ramadan, at Ramsis Square. The function was called for by anti-government protesters.

So I took my camera and other equipment, accompanied by an assistant and a correspondent. However, events took a different turn and a police force coming from Azbakiya police station fired tear gas canisters at the worshippers during prayer.

The worshippers stopped praying, clashed with the police force and began a protest in which they threw bricks at the police, who responded by firing gunshots and tear gas.

I continued taking pictures for about two hours before my camera was directly targeted by gunshots and tear gas canisters. I moved the camera about two metres away, but a group of thugs attacked me and handed me in to the police force, which in turn handed me to the Cairo criminal investigations bureau. Next, the events began to develop rapidly.

As I remember, the police officer who had received me pointed his gun at my face and threatened to kill me. He then asked me to admit that I was working with Al Jazeera. I replied: "Yes, I am". The officer then seized my ID and the mobile phones and took me to the Cairo security directorate, then to Azbakiya police station.

AJ: How frequently was Al Jazeera discussed during the investigations?

MB: On the second day after we were arrested, we were handcuffed and blindfolded while on our knees. All the inquiries were linked to Al Jazeera TV. The questions asked were: How long have you been working with Al Jazeera? How much is your pay? For how much did you sell your country? You are a traitor - who else joined you? From whom do you receive orders? And so on, and so forth.

AJ: You passed through several stages during your time in detention. What were those stages? 

MB: At Azbakiya, we stayed for four days. At al-Aqrab prison we were held for five months, then the Cairo prison for investigations, then Cairo state security directorate, Azbakiya, al-Khalifa police station, al-Jiza security directorate, al-Ajouza security section, Azbakiya police station [again], and finally I was released. All relocations between prisons and detention centres involved beating and tashrifa.

AJ: What is tashrifa? 

MB: Before relocating detainees, the Egyptian interior ministry mandates their beating. This is what they call tashrifa ("honourary farewell"). Tashrifa involves exposing detainees to beating by 20 thugs on the right side and around the same number of thugs on the left side. Each of the 40 thugs has to deal a blow to the outgoing detainees before relocating them. 

AJ: Are they thugs or regular officials? 

MB: If you are about to enter a police station, thugs will beat you. But at the prison gates, regular officials do the beating themselves. 

AJ: Were you held inside prison cells with ordinary prisoners?

MB: We call them criminal law prisoners. I was detained for about ten days in a cell full of convicted murderers, three of them branded as "dangerous" .

Just imagine if you are walking in the street, then accidentally you met a person who was once branded as "dangerous". For sure, you would abandon the street for your safety. I was held with 38 of those criminals. For ten days I could not sleep, could not eat or drink.

I remained on high alert for fear that one of them would attack me, particularly since the prison authorities had deliberately advised them to beat me. Some detainees were attacked, but God has protected me. Fortunately, the criminals did not always succumb to the prison authorities.

Some of them wanted to beat me; others were reluctant to do that. That resulted in frequent infighting between the criminals, following debate among themselves on whether to beat me or leave me alone.

This interview was originally published on aljazeera.net. Translation of the Arabic text by Ahmed Mohamed Al-Goni.

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Al Jazeera
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